Battle of Salado Creek (1842)
|Battle of Salado Creek|
|Part of the Woll Expedition|
A map for the battle.
|Republic of Texas||Mexico|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Mathew Caldwell||Adrián Woll|
|~220 militia||500 cavalry
200 native scouts
2 artillery pieces
|Casualties and losses|
|~60 killed or wounded|
- This battle should not be confused with the 1813 Battle of Rosillo Creek.
The Battle of Salado Creek was a decisive engagement in 1842 which repulsed the final Mexican invasion of the Republic of Texas. Colonel Mathew Caldwell of the Texas Rangers led just over 200 militiamen against an army of 1,600 Mexican Army soldiers and Cherokee warriors and defeated them outside of San Antonio de Bexar along Salado Creek. As a result of this action, Mexican commander General Adrián Woll retreated south and back into Mexico.
On January 9, 1842, word came from General Mariano Arista in Monterrey, that Mexico was planning to invade and retake Texas. He stated that all who would not resist would be given amnesty and protection during this invasion. In August 1842, the Mexican army crossed the border with the intention of regaining control of Texas.
An earlier expedition in March, led by General Ráfael Vásquez, had occupied Goliad, Refugio, and Victoria and then captured San Antonio. The surprised Texians, without a force large enough to hold the town, evacuated to Seguin, without a fight. The Mexican flag was raised over San Antonio and the city was held by the invaders for a few days, before exiting to Mexico. A Texian force was organized at the Manuel N. Flores ranch in Seguin that pursued and ensured Vasquez's flight from Texas.
In June, a smaller force under the command of Colonel Antonio Canales Rosillo had raided southern Texas until being repulsed in an engagement near Fort Lipantitlan, west of Corpus Christi. The Texian invasions of a year earlier, in which the Texians attempted to annex New Mexico during the Santa Fe Expedition had also stirred up Mexico's interest in retaking Texas.
French Mexican General Adrián Woll commanded the September expedition which included 500 cavalry, 900 infantry, 200 Cherokee scouts and two artillery pieces. On September 11, 1842 the Mexicans arrived in San Antonio. Captain Salvador Flores was assigned by Mayor John William Smith to command 100 local Tejanos against the Mexican invaders. However, the larger Mexican forces captured the city after a skirmish with sixty-two Texians under Chauncy Johnson, who were positioned in houses facing the town plaza. Woll had orders to hold the city, wait for reinforcements, and to withdraw from San Antonio by mid October.
The alarm was quickly raised so Texian militia began assembling to fight Woll's troops. Colonel Mathew Caldwell, a veteran of the Texas Revolution who had just recently been released after capture during the Santa Fe Expedition, began forming a contingent in Seguin to expel Woll from the city. After forming 140 Texian volunteers Caldwell marched for Cibolo Creek, twenty miles from San Antonio. A little later Caldwell moved his camp thirteen miles closer to the city along Salado Creek near the Prescot House. Altogether, about 220 Texians had been assembled to fight the Mexicans.
Colonel Caldwell knew he was outnumbered so he chose a course of action which called for some of his militia to lure the Mexicans out of the fortified city and into the prairie around Salado Creek. The remaining Texians would be positioned within the creek bed where they had good cover. Caldwell never anticipated victory but he knew that with his men positioned in the creek bed could cause considerable damage to the Mexicans without being too exposed to enemy fire. Only thirty-eight horses were found to be fit for duty among the Texan camp so only thirty-eight men could be sent to lure out the Mexicans. Captain John C. Hays, with his fourteen Texas Rangers were assigned to the mission along with Henry E. McCulloch, William A. A. Wallace, Robert Addison Gillespie and sixteen others. The thirty-eight men were sent from the Salado to San Antonio on the morning of September 17, where they arrived outside the city sometime after 9:00 am at dawn. Some accounts say the engagement occurred on September 18 but Caldwell's own report contradicts this. Hays ordered his men dismounted and prepared an ambush while he and eight others remounted and proceeded to within a half mile of the Alamo where Woll was based. Hays hoped to lure out around fifty of the Mexicans but when the Texans were spotted, 200 Mexican cavalrymen were sent after them followed by forty Cherokees and about 300 more men led by Woll himself.
Immediately Hays ordered a retreat back to the creek and a running battle ensued. The Mexican cavalry attempted to cut Hay's command off from the right but the Texians managed to get back to the Salado, closely pursued. Over 200 shots were fired during this first skirmish though the Texians sustained no casualties. When Hays reached the camp the men were preparing for breakfeast which was quickly stopped so as to take up positions for defense. The cavalry, after seeing the Texan camp, chose to break off the pursuit and form a line of battle on the opposite side of the creek in the prairie southeast of Caldwell's men. When over 1,000 Mexicans and Cherokees were assembled they began firing across the creek with volleys of musket and cannon fire. Though accurate the artillery barrage was ineffective throughout the five-hour battle because of the distance at which they were being fired from. According to one Texian named N. B. Burkett, the Texians "did not pay a great deal of attention to them." Caldwell then sent for reinforcements from several nearby towns, his distress call said that he was surrounded but was confident that he was in no threat of being defeated and could hold his position.
Another few sentences of Caldwell's message read; "The enemy are around me on every side, but I fear them not. I will hold my position until I hear from reinforcements. Come and help me—it is the most favorable opportunity I have ever seen. There are eleven hundred of the enemy. I can whip them on any ground, without any help, but can not take any prisoners. Why don't you come? Huzza! huzza for Texas!" The battle took the form of skirmishing for several hours as Caldwell directed his sharpshooters to constantly harass the Mexican line and retreat back to the creek before being discovered. These tactics severely annoyed the Mexicans who were dying left and right while inflicting only few casualties upon the Texians. Eventually General Woll ordered a full attack with his left and right wings so the Mexicans advanced but they were repulsed within fifteen minutes. Some of the Mexicans made it to twenty steps from the Texian line before being killed. After this failed attack Woll attempted to rally his men for another but could not, so that night he retreated south towards the border. Woll managed to complete a successful withdrawal by igniting several camp fires so as to make the Texians believe that they were not leaving. But when some Caldwell's men attempted to skirmish with the Mexicans that night, they discovered that Woll had retreated and the battle was over.
The battle at Salado Creek proved to be a decisive victory for the Texians; at least sixty Mexicans were reported as casualties while only one Texian was killed and nine others wounded. Caldwell pursued Woll's force after learning of the retreat and eventually caught up with them at the Hondo River where another battle was fought. In it, Captain Hays captured the enemy artillery but was repulsed soon after by an overwhelming Mexican force who then continued the retreat towards the Rio Grande.
During the time of the battle at Salado, another engagement occurred, this time in the form of a skirmish turned into a massacre. Captain Nicholas Dawson was leading a force of fifty-three men on September 17 to reinforce Caldwell when he was attacked outside of San Antonio by several hundred Mexican cavalrymen, after a skirmish the Texians began to surrender and when they had been relieved of their weapons, the Mexicans opened fire again. Thirty-six of the fifty-three Texians were killed, two escaped the massacre and fifteen others were taken prisoner, of these seventeen men, only nine would survive. Caldwell's men found bodies of the Dawson party the next day on September 18, and buried them.
Their remains were later removed in 1848 to the Monument Hill Tomb with victims of the black bean incident. Also, about 100 more Texians arrived that day to reinforce Caldwell's command which eventually reached a strength of 500 men before the campaign was over.
- SALADO CREEK, BATTLE OF | The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)
- Battle of the Salado Creek 1842
- Jack W. Gunn, "MEXICAN INVASIONS OF 1842," Handbook of Texas Online , accessed February 22, 2012. Pub. by the Texas State Historical Assn.n.
- "VASQUEZ, RAFAEL," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fva22), accessed May 16, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
- Roderick B. Patten, "FLORES, MANUEL [1801–1868]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffl17), accessed May 29, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
- Roberto Mario Salmón, "CANALES ROSILLO, ANTONIO," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fca38), accessed May 29, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
- Milvern Harrell: Survivor of the Dawson Massacre by Garland R. Lively
- Judge Anderson Hutchinson Diary,( TSL )
- Ramos (2008), pg. 188
- The Mier Expedition by George Lord
- Ramos, Raul A. (2008), Beyond the Alamo, forging Mexican ethnicity in San Antonio, 1821–1861, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, ISBN 0-8078-3207-3
- Milvern Harrell: Survivor of the Dawson Massacre by Garland R. Lively
- Map of North America at the time of the 1842 Mexican expedition against Texas (omniatlas.com)